It’s no secret that Supergiant Games perfected their formula with their 2018 roguelike hit Hades. The developers put themselves on the map with Bastion, and saw moderate success with follow-ups Transistor and Pyre. All these games are great in their own right. And, given the small and dedicated development team behind these games, they’ve all been scored by the same phenomenal composer: Darren Korb. It is my stance that, like the games themselves, the respective soundtracks have improved to the point where Korb has all but mastered his craft in the Hades Original Soundtrack.
After sinking hundreds of hours into the game itself, enjoying the music along the way, I felt I owed it to myself and to anyone moderately interested in the soundtrack to write this review. This feeling increased tenfold after Supergiant revealed plans for a sequel, Hades II, starring Zagreus’ sister Melinoe. So, here we are. Let’s talk about this fantastic soundtrack.
I’d like to start with the vocal tracks. There are two vocalists on this soundtrack, as there have been on the previous Supergiant OSTs. Darren Korb, the composer himself, is one of the vocalists, in this game taking the role of Orpheus. The other is Ashley Lynn Barrett, who sings and voices Eurydice (Korb did not do the voiceovers for Orpheus; instead, he took on the role of protagonist Zagreus!). Korb and Barrett, as Orpheus and Eurydice, sing two duets on this soundtrack. One is “Good Riddance,” a song about death and letting go and finding freedom, all pertinent to their subplot. The melodies here are lovely, and the chord progression is deceptively simple (as 8-Bit Music Theory notes in this video). I can, and have, listened to this beautiful duet on loop for long periods of time. Note that this song also exists in a Eurydice-only form, and sometimes I prefer the crisp, melodic strains from Ms. Barrett on their own. That said, Korb’s beautiful falsetto as Orpheus does bring depth to the song.
The other duet is “In the Blood,” which serves as the game’s end credits theme. This is a powerful, driving song whose momentum matches the energy of the game itself, never soft, wispy, or elegiac. This song serves as a declaration regarding Zagreus and what he hopes to reclaim in his tireless efforts. Given that Zagreus is the god of blood, and that the game’s plot remains central to Zagreus’ parents, there are layers of meaning here.
Korb, as Orpheus, has two additional vocal tracks to offer. “Lament of Orpheus” is a dark and moody piece with a powerful chorus ending with the all-important reminder, “don’t look back!” sung almost like a ghost haunting one’s dreams. “Hymn to Zagreus” is a fantastic ode to Zagreus’ endeavors, though Zagreus fibs and tells Orpheus that he and Dionysus are one and the same. In the context of the game, this makes “Hymn to Zagreus” a farce. The deeper irony, planned by Supergiant, is that in some early Greek myths, Dionysus and Zagreus actually *are* the same entity. Alongside being an interesting song, then, “Hymn to Zagreus” is an object lesson in both unreliable narrators and the complexities of ancient Greek mythology.
For many fans, these vocal themes are what define the soundtrack. Korb’s instrumental work, however, is every bit as interesting. Plucked string instruments make up the bulk of this score, guitar and harp leading the way, sometimes in sparse acoustic form and sometimes in amped-up electric. While much here reminds me of Korb’s previous works (especially Bastion), Korb taps into the tried and true tradition of irregular time signatures. Listening through this album, I’ve heard portions of songs in 5, 11 (6+5), 13 (7+6), and even a 21/16 made of two common time measures and then a 5/16 tagged on at the end. There is so much metric mayhem throughout this album that the moments when a solid 4/4 common time fall into place catch your attention and mean something.
It’s also worth noting that some of the tracks on this album feature some big names. Orchestral treat “On the Coast” and aforementioned vocal credits theme “In the Blood” were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, produced by Austin Wintory (of Journey and Banner Saga fame). The final boss battle track “The Unseen Ones” includes dueling guitars from two Japanese guitarists of some renown: Masahiro “Godspeed” Aoki (who recently played in the Octopath Traveler BBB Band) and GuitarFreaks + beatmania composer/performer Daisuke Kurosawa. The big production value on these particular tracks helps them stand out. These three songs are the final three on the OST, and they make for a fine capstone.
The Hades Original Soundtrack is one I frequently enjoy listening to outside the context of the game. There is more to discover with additional focus and a discerning ear. I have high hopes for Hades II and its soundtrack. I very much hope for the return of our friends Orpheus and Eurydice, and if not them, then some other characters Korb and Barrett can represent in song!